The Green Bay Packers gave both Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews contract extensions that have made them the highest paid football players at their respective positions and rightfully so. Both Rogers and Matthews have had very impressive careers thus far. In Matthews’ case, it means 204 combined tackles, 42.5 sacks and 7 forced fumbles, definitely lending to the notion that he is a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. Rogers went from backing up one of best signal callers in Brett Favre, to taking the reins and continuing that tradition of success. The past five years have been pretty grand for the man under center in Green Bay. With an overall passer rating of 104.9, 171 touchdowns for 21,661 yards, four consecutive playoff berths and a Championship title, I would say we Packer fans have been pretty lucky too.
So who in Green Bay truly deserves the next contract extension? Since it is a contract year for quite a few players, let’s examine who’s on track to getting paid in 2014.
B.J. Raji (Defensive Tackle)
Current Contract: 5yr/$26,930,000.00
Raji’s contract extension seems less like a matter of if, as it does when. That being said, I wouldn’t say Raji in the clear just yet. After having a down season, just 16 total tackles and no sacks, the Packers will want to make sure Raji is still the same guy they spent a first round pick on. I think Raji is primed for a similar breakout season like the one he had in 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl, however only time will tell.
Ryan Pickett (Defensive End)
Current Contract: 4yr/$24,750,000.00
This guy was built to stop the run. At 340 lbs, Pickett is a defensive wall who has had consistent production since he signed with the Packers in 2006. He brings 12 years of experience to the table and while we shouldn't underestimate a veteran presence, we also cannot overlook the fact that Pickett is firmly cemented in the winter of his career. It would be hard to see any long term agreement being reached, not when there are so many mouths to feed.
Jermichael Finley (Tight End)
Current Contract: 2yr/$14,000,000.00
He’s on fire… He’s cold as ice. You love him… You hate him. One thing’s for sure, Jermichael Finley has been a roller-coaster of production over the past several years. The targets for Finley to prove himself have been there, but his problem in the most recent past has been dropped balls. At 6’5", 248lbs, this guy has the potential to be a match up nightmare when at his peak. Coming off a decent ending to 2012, it’s all about 2013 for Finley. Unless he resolves his issue with dropped passes, look for the Ted Thompson and company to move on in 2014.
James Jones (Wide Receiver)
Current Contract: 3yr/$9,700,000.00
Due to injury at the wide receiver position, James Jones saw his best campaign in 2012 when he went for 784 receiving yards and league high 14 touchdowns. With Greg Jennings in Minnesota and Donald Driver enjoying retirement, 2013 could see similar production. The only negative for Jones is that Green Bay does not have a lack of depth at receiving weapons for Aaron Rodgers, and with a play-maker like Randall Cobb whose rookie contract will be up in 2015, Jones will have to prove he can be a consistent touchdown threat in 2013.
Current Contract: 4yr/$3,508,100.00 & 3yr/$1,379,600.00
I've grouped these two together because they are in a similar situation, and unfortunately I only see one of these guys snagging a long term deal. The Packers releasing Charles Woodson and not drafting a safety in 2013 tells us they expect one of these guys to step up in a big way. Morgan Burnett had a better 2012 by the numbers with 88 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, however I’m not about to underestimate M.D. Jennings either. He wants to shed the stigma of the infamous "fail mary" play, and I could see him having a breakout type of season. Look for one if not both of these guys to carve out and solidify their role in the Green Bay secondary in 2013.
Current Contract: 1yr/$1,323,000.00
The Center position is sometimes an overlooked and underestimated part of the offensive line. Essentially the center is the anchor. He needs to be able to read defensive schemes correctly and communicate with the Quarterback effectively, all while blocking 300lb defensive tackles. Originally playing offensive guard, Dietrich-Smith took over in week 16 for aging and worn down Jeff Saturday. Looking good in the last 4 games, Dietrich-Smith landed a restricted free-agent tender and will be the undisputed starter in 2013. With Green Bay having one of the worst offensive lines in 2012, Dietrich-Smith needs to show that he not only has the physical components to play a full 16 games effectively, but also the mental wherewithal to prove he’s the center of the future.
Current Contract: 1yr/$2,023,000.00
Like Evan Dietrich-Smith, Sam Shields was also able to receive a restricted free-agent tender for 2013. Although Shields has shown bursts of production, he will also have to fend off a dynamic Casey Hayward coming off a monster rookie season in which he picked off opposing offenses six times. If Hayward proves he’s not a one hit wonder, I don’t foresee the Packers extending Shields a long term deal.
Although highly lucrative, The Packers were able to save cap room the way they structured the contracts of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. However, realistically we know not every player can be re-signed or offered a long term deal. Contract extensions are not granted, rather they are earned through hard work and solid production. Who will step-up in 2013 and who will fizzle is yet to be determined. One thing we can note is that the last time the Green Bay Packers had this many players in a contract season was 2010 and they were able to make it through the post-season and go on to win Super Bowl XLV. Let’s hope 2013 will bring similar results
As always...GO PACK GO!